The young and old could learn a thing or two from each other, at least when it comes to mental health and cognition.
In a new study, published September 12, 2022 in Psychology and Aging, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that healthy older adults show greater mental well-being but poorer cognitive performance than younger adults. The underlying neural mechanisms may inspire new interventions to promote healthy brain function.
The study sampled 62 healthy younger adults in their 20s and 54 healthy older adults above age 60. Researchers evaluated participants’ mental health, surveying symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and overall mental well-being. Participants also performed several cognitively demanding tasks while their brain activity was measured using electroencephalography (EEG).
Okay, this doesn’t have any obvious connection to living a long and healthy life, but I am a dog-lover and believe that there are more connections between our two species than meets the eye.
Scientists have decoded visual images from a dog’s brain, offering a first look at how the canine mind reconstructs what it sees. The Journal of Visualized Experiments published the research done at Emory University.
The results suggest that dogs are more attuned to actions in their environment rather than to who or what is doing the action.
The researchers recorded the fMRI neural data for two awake, unrestrained dogs as they watched videos in three 30-minute sessions, for a total of 90 minutes. They then used a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the patterns in the neural data.
“We showed that we can monitor the activity in a dog’s brain while it is watching a video and, to at least a limited degree, reconstruct what it is looking at,” says Gregory Berns, Emory professor of psychology and corresponding author of the paper. “The fact that we are able to do that is remarkable.”
Like all adults, older adults should avoid or limit alcohol consumption. In fact, aging can lead to social and physical changes that make older adults more susceptible to alcohol misuse and abuse and more vulnerable to the consequences of alcohol. Alcohol dependence or heavy drinking affects every organ in the body, including the brain.
A comprehensive study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that alcohol consumption among older adults, especially women, is on the rise. The researchers also found evidence that certain brain regions show signs of premature aging in alcohol-dependent men and women. In addition, heavy drinking for extended periods of time in older adults may contribute to poor heart health, as shown in this 2016 study. These studies suggest that stopping or limiting the use of alcohol could improve heart health and prevent the accelerated aging seen with heavy alcohol use.
Musical training has long been linked to better general cognitive functioning. Studies investigating everything from the cognitive skills of adult musicians vs non-musicians to the effects of instrument lessons on children’s cognition has come out in support of the idea, according to the British Psychological Society.
However, relatively few studies have explored whether the benefits last — if, as a child, you have piano lessons, for example, does this have any impact on your cognitive abilities in later life? The results of a new longitudinal study, in Psychological Science, which tested the same people at the ages of 11 and 70, suggest that it does. Cognitive benefits of musical training seem to be evident even decades later.
Gene variants associated with a person’s blood type may be linked to their risk of early stroke, according to a new meta-analysis published in the August 31, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The meta-analysis included all available data from genetic studies that included young adult ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.
“Non-O blood types have previously been linked to a risk of early stroke, but the findings of our meta-analysis showed a stronger link between these blood types with early stroke compared to late stroke, and in linking risk mostly to blood type A,” said study author Braxton D. Mitchell, PhD, MPH, of University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Specifically, our meta-analysis suggests that gene variants tied to blood types A and O represent nearly all of those genetically linked with early stroke. People with these gene variants may be more likely to develop blood clots, which can lead to stroke.”
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method that employs musical tests and a portable instrument for measuring brain activity to detect cognitive decline in old age. According to the researchers, the method, which is based on the measurement of 15 minutes of electrical activity in the brain while performing simple musical tasks, can be easily implemented by any staff member in any clinic, without requiring special training.
The researchers: “Our method enables routine monitoring and early detection of cognitive decline in order to provide treatment and prevent rapid, severe deterioration. Prophylactic tests of this kind are commonly accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer; however, to date no method has yet been developed to enable routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues.” The researchers further note that tests of this kind are particularly important in light of increasing longevity and associated growth of the elderly population.
The study was led at Tel Aviv University by PhD student Neta Maimon from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and Lior Molcho from Neurosteer Ltd, headed by Prof. Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience. Other participants included: Adi Sasson, Sarit Rabinowitz, and Noa Regev-Plotnick from the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. The article was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
The dementia disorder Alzheimer’s disease has a symptom-free course of 15 to 20 years before the first clinical symptoms emerge. Using an immuno-infrared sensor developed in Bochum, a research team is able to identify signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the blood up to 17 years before the first clinical symptoms appear. The sensor detects the misfolding of the protein biomarker amyloid-beta. As the disease progresses, this misfolding causes characteristic deposits in the brain, so-called plaques.
“Our goal is to determine the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia at a later stage with a simple blood test even before the toxic plaques can form in the brain, in order to ensure that a therapy can be initiated in time,” says Professor Klaus Gerwert, founding director of the Centre for Protein Diagnostics (PRODI) at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. His team cooperated for the study with a group at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg (DKFZ) headed by Professor Hermann Brenner.
The team published the results obtained with the immuno-infrared sensor in the journal “Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association” on 19 July 2022. This study is supported by a comparative study published in the same journal on 2 March 2022, in which the researchers used complementary single-molecule array (SIMOA) technology.
New research by Georgia State University’s TReNDS Center may lead to early diagnosis of devastating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and autism—in time to help prevent and more easily treat these disorders. In a new study published in Scientific Reports a team of seven scientists from Georgia State built a sophisticated computer program that was able to comb through massive amounts of brain imaging data and discover novel patterns linked to mental health conditions. The brain imaging data came from scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures dynamic brain activity by detecting tiny changes in blood flow.
“We built artificial intelligence models to interpret the large amounts of information from fMRI,” said Sergey Plis, associate professor of computer science and neuroscience at Georgia State, and lead author on the study.
He compared this kind of dynamic imaging to a movie—as opposed to a snapshot such as an x-ray or, the more common structural MRI—and noted “the available data is so much larger, so much richer than a blood test or a regular MRI. But that’s the challenge—that huge amount of data is hard to interpret.”
Consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week is associated with higher iron levels in the brain, according to a study of almost 21,000 people. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.
There is growing evidence that even moderate alcohol consumption can adversely impact brain health. Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues explored relationships between alcohol consumption and brain iron levels. Their 20,965 participants from the UK Biobank reported their own alcohol consumption, and their brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Almost 7,000 also had their livers imaged using MRI to assess levels of systemic iron. All individuals completed a series of simple tests to assess cognitive and motor function.
Spirituality should be incorporated into care for both serious illness and overall health, according to a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern day literature regarding health and spirituality to date,” said Tracy Balboni, lead author and senior physician at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of future whole person-centered care, and the results should stimulate more national discussion and progress on how spirituality can be incorporated into this type of value-sensitive care.”
“Spirituality is important to many patients as they think about their health,” said Tyler VanderWeele, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Harvard Chan School. “Focusing on spirituality in health care means caring for the whole person, not just their disease.”
Our visual perception of the world is often thought of as relatively stable. However, like all of our cognitive functions, visual processing is shaped by our experiences. During both development and adulthood, learning can alter visual perception. For example, improved visual discrimination of similar patterns is a learned skill critical for reading. In a new research study published in Current Biology, scientists have now discovered the neuronal changes that occur during learning to improve discrimination of closely related visual images.
This study, led by first author Dr. Joseph Schumacher and senior author Dr. David Fitzpatrick at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, establishes a transformative approach to studying perceptual learning in the brain. Researchers imaged the activity of large numbers of single neurons over days to track the changes that occur while a visual discrimination task is learned, performing these experiments in a novel animal model, the tree shrew.
Older people with hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, may be at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in the July 6, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The risk of developing dementia was even higher for people whose thyroid condition required thyroid hormone replacement medication.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. This can slow metabolism. Symptoms include feeling tired, weight gain and sensitivity to cold.
New research from NUI Galway and Boston University has identified a blood biomarker that could help identify people with the earliest signs of dementia, even before the onset of symptoms.
The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers measured blood levels of P-tau181, a marker of neurodegeneration, in 52 cognitively healthy adults, from the US-based Framingham Heart Study, who later went on to have specialised brain PET scans. The blood samples were taken from people who had no cognitive symptoms and who had normal cognitive testing at the time of blood testing.
Working with tiny bacteria, Michigan State University researchers led by Lee Kroos have made a discovery that could have big implications for biology.
The researchers revealed a new way that nature can inhibit or switch off important proteins known as intramembrane proteases — pronounced “pro tea aces” — which the team reported April 26th in the journal eLife.
Although the Spartans made this finding using a model organism, a microbe known as Bacillus subtilis, this type of protein is highly conserved, which is how evolutionary biologists say, “it’s everywhere.”
These types of proteases are found in organisms that span the kingdoms of life, from single-celled bacteria to people. In fact, the first intramembrane protease was discovered in humans in 1997 and perhaps the best-known member of this family, named gamma-secretase, is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
First-ever study to measure high-density lipoprotein particle numbers in spinal fluid led by Keck School of Medicine of USC
Medical guidelines meant to reduce risk for heart disease focus on levels of cholesterol in the blood, including low-density lipoproteins (LDL), labeled “bad cholesterol,” and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), labeled as “good.” Now, a new study suggests an important connection between good cholesterol particles in cerebrospinal fluid and brain health as well.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC took samples of cerebrospinal fluid from people aged 60 and older and measured the amount of small HDL particles in each sample. The team found that a higher number of these particles in the fluid is associated with two key indicators that the particles might have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.
One indicator is better performance on cognitive tests. The other indicator is higher circulating levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of a particular peptide — like a protein, but smaller — called amyloid beta 42. Although that peptide contributes to Alzheimer’s disease when it misfolds and clumps onto neurons, an increased concentration circulating around the brain and spine is actually linked to lower risk for the disease.
“This study represents the first time that small HDL particles in the brain have been counted,” said Hussein Yassine, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “They may be involved with the clearance and excretion of the peptides that form the amyloid plaques we see in Alzheimer’s disease, so we speculate that there could be a role for these small HDL particles in prevention.”
In recent years, subcortical small-vessel disease has become an increasingly common cognitive diagnosis. Researchers at University of Gothenburg have now shown that it is possible to identify patients with the disease by combining two biomarkers that are measured in spinal fluid and blood, increasing the potential for both treatment and development of medication.
Subcortical small-vessel disease is one of the most common cognitive diseases, along with Alzheimer’s disease and mixed dementia, which is a form in which Alzheimer’s disease occurs together with vascular damage in the brain.